Tradition carried on for hunting opener
The most sacrosanct of Minnesota holidays is taking place in the woods of Hubbard County, where the deer are plentiful.
Families that have been coming to the region for decades are once again united in a common purpose - filling their deer tags. Traditions older than most Christmas holidays take place here.
"We've been coming here 35, 40 years," said John Tesch of Barrett. Five members of his family, including grandson Tim Tesch, and six members of the Vangstad family from Zimmerman converged on Hubbard County land near the Halvorson Forest Trail, arriving two days before Saturday's opener.
The 11-member party had shot four deer by Sunday, when some of the group gathered around a campfire and a vintage radio to listen to the Minnesota Vikings game.
"We're doing better than last year," John Tesch said.
Family members will come and go throughout the week, Mike Vangstad said. "My dad and son are out hunting right now," he said, pointing to empty chairs around the campfire.
"The group that hunts now are mostly the kids, but us old guys have been coming here together for years," John Tesch said, grinning at decades of memories.
Grandfathers, sons, uncles, cousins, dads, three generations of Vangstads and Tesches, come to Hubbard County each fall like clockwork. They know all of their hunting neighbors, how many are in each party, and when they started hunting on county lands.
They just can't remember any names. But they likely can remember each and every deer shot in the neighborhood.
Just south of "The Gulch" region of Hubbard County, Ralph Marquette and a party of 30 from Duluth has been coming to the region for 40 years, also. They stay at an old CCC camp northeast of Big Mantrap Lake.
We all came up here the same time and have been coming here ever since," said Marquette, who was hunting with 13-year-old grandson Silas Brown.
The two were hauling a nine-point buck out of the woods Marquette had just dispatched.
"I'm exhausted!" Silas said. He decided he'd go back out Monday to try for his first deer.
Because deer were so plentiful, this year, many fawns were harvested. At least five had been reported to the Emmaville Store over the weekend, said co-owner Melanie Spry.
Fifty-some bucks and nearly 20 does were registered at Emmaville.
"We're about the same as last year but the numbers can be deceptive because people can register them by phone," said Debbie Lempola, co-owner of Delaney's Sports Center in Park Rapids.
"We've seen a lot of nice deer," Lempola said.
Neither woman said she'd heard of any wolf hunting in the area, which coincided with the firearms deer season.
The wolf season
Nearly 50 wolves had been registered the first weekend of the hunt, the DNR indicated.
Through a lottery, 3,600 licenses were drawn. Hunters were given a 2 percent chance at shooting a wolf.
Some of those 50 might have been coyotes.
"I don't have any record of that but I can't say that's not accurate either," said Scott Pengelly, DNR information officer. "It wouldn't quite frankly be surprising, I guess."
Pengelly said the most wolves taken were in the east-central zone, which the DNR closed off late Monday. Hubbard County is in the northwest zone, which had an early season target of 133 wolves. As of late Monday, 25 had been shot.
The target for the early season, which runs through Nov. 11 or 18, depending on the zone was 200 wolves statewide. A late hunting and trapping season harvest runs Nov. 24 - the end of January 2013.
The target in the northwest zone was 133 wolves for early season. Over the weekend 25 were taken.
The Park Rapids DNR office processed a wolf Monday morning that had been shot near Deer Creek, said area assistant wildlife manager Rob Rabasco.
"We haven't heard much," he said of the overall hunt.
Under the new wolf law wildlife officials must take a variety of samples from wolves harvested in the state.
"We take two for aging," Rabasco said. "We take a piece of muscle for DNA, we take part of the liver, we take a kidney and for females we take the uterine tract."
Those samples are sent to DNR researchers.
Three days have been set by law for processing: Nov. 6, 13 and 19. The wolf processed Monday was by appointment. It was shot Monday and the hunter had a flight leaving the state the next day, Rabasco said.
"That's going to be completely random and unpredictable," Rabasco said of the three processing dates. "Because they don't have to call. They can just knock on the door.
"Of the 50 taken statewide, there's gotta be a percentage of those that are coyotes, would be my guess. One hundred percent of those 50 being wolves, I doubt it," he said.
"That assuming 100 percent of the folks can identify the difference and it can be difficult for some people. But we don't know what to expect."